Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi continued his aggressive stance against the Narendra Modi government in and outside Parliament on Wednesday.
Maintaining that it was pro-corporate, he accused the government in the Lok Sabha of being anti-youth and trying to give away Internet space to corporates. “The government wants to carve out the Internet and give it away to the corporates...Stop the TRAI consultations. Please work out a law for net neutrality,” Mr. Gandhi said. “Over one million people are fighting for net neutrality.”
Mr. Gandhi’s brief intervention during zero hour on net neutrality stretched into a 20-minute war of words between the Opposition and Treasury Benches. He began his intervention with a dig at Mr. Modi, who was not present.
“I saw in Time magazine that the American President has written a long article on your Prime Minister. In 60 years, the U.S. President has never praised anyone except [Mikhail] Gorbachev. That is because Gorbachev helped America,” he said.
‘If you favour net neutrality why consultation?’
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi told journalists outside Parliament on Wednesday that the government was testing the waters before giving away a free Internet to corporate interests.
“I want to ask a question. If you [the government] have to protect net neutrality, why did you begin the consultation process? It was a trial balloon. First shoot the trial balloon, see the reaction and if the reaction is strong then do not proceed. That is why we are opposing it tooth and nail so that they withdraw,” he said.
He linked the issue of net neutrality to the land acquisition law and accused the government of trying to hand over another resource to corporates. “This government, which belongs to the corporates and the industrialists, is snatching land from farmers, labourers and tribals…I thought that since Internet users, the youth, had supported Modiji, he will protect their Internet [rights], but what is happening is that as land is being snatched, so is the Internet,” he said.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister M.Venkaiah Naidu said in the Lok Sabha that while Mr. Gandhi had the right to raise an issue as a member of the House, he should “not insinuate against the government.”
In a departure from convention, Union Minister for Communications & Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad took permission from the Speaker to reply to the issue raised by Mr. Gandhi. “We respect the youth activism on the net. The Prime Minister has spoken about Digital India and instructed us not just to provide e-governance but mobile governance,” he said. Replying to Mr. Gandhi, he said: “We don’t get cowed down by any corporates nor will we be.” Mr. Prasad launched a counter-attack, saying: “You are talking about Net freedom; in August 2012, who was responsible for blocking Twitter handles?” His remarks led to several Opposition members wanting to intervene. Speaker Sumitra Mahajan turned down their requests.
In-depth: >The Net neutrality debate
Here's all you need to know about net neutrality:
How does net neutrality affect you?
The internet is now a level-playing field. Anybody can start up a website, stream music or use social media with the same amount of data that they have purchased with a particular ISP. But in the absence of neutrality, your ISP might favour certain websites over others for which you might have to pay extra. Website A might load at a faster speed than Website B because your ISP has a deal with Website A that Website B cannot afford. It’s like your electricity company charging you extra for using the washing machine, television and microwave oven above and beyond what you are already paying.
Late last month, Trai released a draft consultation paper seeking views from the industry and the general public on the need for regulations for over-the-top (OTT) players such as Whatsapp, Skype, Viber etc, security concerns and net neutrality. The objective of this consultation paper, the regulator said, was to analyse the implications of the growth of OTTs and consider whether or not changes were required in the current regulatory framework.
What is an OTT?
OTT or over-the-top refers to applications and services which are accessible over the internet and ride on operators' networks offering internet access services. The best known examples of OTT are Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, e-commerce sites, Ola, Facebook messenger. The OTTs are not bound by any regulations. The Trai is of the view that the lack of regulations poses a threat to security and there’s a need for government’s intervention to ensure a level playing field in terms of regulatory compliance.
>Privileging telcos over netizens - Prabir Purkayastha The sort of closed Internet that TRAI is proposing, in defiance of the principle of net neutrality, is no longer on the discussion agenda in any country.
>Live Chat: The Hindu conducted a live chat on how net neutrality affects users. The panel included Pranesh Prakash from Centre for Internet and Society, Vijay Anand from The Start Up Centre and Sriram Srinivasan, The Hindu's Business Editor - Online.
- like Airtel, Vodaphone, Reliance...
- which lays down the rules for telecom companies
- The like Facebook, Google, whatsapp and other smaller startups
The Hindu Editorials
- > The importance of Net neutrality: Should the Internet be touched? That's one way to summarise the twenty questions the TRAI has asked the public in a recent consultation paper.
- > Blow for Net neutrality: Flipkart had to contain the fallout after Airtel Zero was severely criticised by the proponents of Net neutrality, the principle that all Internet traffic has to be treated equally.
>News analysis: Flipkart and flipside
Is Flipkart so naive not to know the implications of Airtel Zero for the overall Internet ecosystem?
>Here's why you're wrong, Mr. Zuckerberg
The Facebook founder said universal connectivity and net neutrality can co-exist.
>Here's all you need to know on the issue
Missed the debate? A look at the issue of Net neutrality and the controversy surrounding it.
>Telecom Ministry to submit report by May 9
The government has set up a six-member committee to examine the issue of Net neutrality.
Corrections and Clarifications:
This article has been edited for a factual error.